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Journal of Military History
Vieques, The Navy, And Puerto Rican Politics
January 1, 2003
Vieques , the Navy, and Puerto Rican Politics. By Amilcar Antonio Barreto. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002. ISBN 0-8130-2472-2. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 167. $55.00.
This book deals with the political wrangling over the Puerto Rican island of Vieques , which has been used by the U.S. Navy since 1947 for training in Marine amphibious landings, naval surface fire support from offshore, and air-to-ground bombing from Navy and Marine Corps aircraft launched from carriers. The Navy has argued that Vieques offers training advantages unavailable anywhere else, an argument challenged by the Center for Naval Analyses in 2000. The tiny island is inhabited by some 9,400 people sandwiched between two firing ranges, a few of whom have been killed by training accidents. The matter of Puerto Rico 's unresolved status (commonwealth, statehood, or independence) defines Puerto Rican politics. Since the 1970s, political opposition to the Navy's use of the island has grown in national and international clout. So much so that President George W. Bush declared in June of 2001 that the Navy should cease exercises on Vieques by May 2003 and find a suitable alternative elsewhere. Whether the timetable will be met is uncertain, though it would be practically impossible to see how Washington could allow continuing the exercises beyond that date, especially given the importance of the Hispanic vote.
Students of military history and strategy will find that Barreto's book offers mixed rewards. His broader purpose is to link the struggle over Vieques with the compelling political question of status and the rise of a distinct Puerto Rican identity and nationalism. Thus the book's reach is ambitious. Yet it is poor in reporting and analyzing history, often lapsing into sweeping unsubstantiated statements e.g.: Vieques has been used as a training facility for the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, the Bay of Pigs, the invasion of the Dominican Republic (1965), the overthrow of Allende in Chile, the invasion of Grenada, and Panama in 1989 (p. 27). Unsupported allegations do not serve the cause of eliminating the injustice that the viequenses have endured. The book is also poorly written, with excessive reliance on direct quotes to carry the discourse. This distracts the reader, impedes logical connectivity, and dilutes credibility. A good editor should have caught these problems.
The finest chapter in the book has to do with the notion that the struggle over Vieques promotes the development of "transnational identities," a pattern that is eliminating cultural and political borders. Statesmen should ponder the policy implications of this form of globalization. In the meantime we must ask how the United States and Puerto Rico can continue a relationship based on unresolved political status and incomplete Puerto Rican political representation in the American democracy.
U.S. Army War College
Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania